Learning from the Worst

Learning from the Worst
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Even though It seems like the school year just started, somehow it’s already November, which also means it’s recruitment season.  As someone who is officially looking to move on and find a new admin position, it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming.  For some it can be even more difficult to make the decision to leave since when you say goodbye to your current position there is no guarantee you’ll even find a job.  For others the not-knowing that comes with the recruitment season is what makes it exciting.

I’m guessing that when you think about your next school you imagine a place where, in the words of Garrison Keillor, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”  However, when the recruitment season ends some of us will find ourselves moving to schools where the character of the community is far from that of residents of Lake Wobegon (ok, I promise I’m done referencing A Prairie Home Companion…I am from MN don’t ya know).

The other week I was talking with an international school recruiter who explained to me that “when you’re starting off in administration you have no choice but to go to whatever school is willing to take you.”  Now although I don’t disagree with his premise that new admin have less to offer in experience, I do argue that since we talk so much about ‘fit’ these days we need to challenge administrators to question experience over fit (says the newbie).  However, the concept of fit vs. experience is not what this blog is about.  What I’d like to discuss is with the explosion of international education around the world, and an increase of quasi-accredited schools with quasi-accredited admin running the school, is it better to learn from the best or to learn from the worst?

At first the answer to this question seems pretty obvious, of course it’s better to learn from the best.  Yet, as I’ve reflected on it, I personally think I’ve grown the most professionally  when I’ve work along side or for a terrible leader.  For example, in addition to being in education, I like to think of myself as a excellent painter….the house kind not the starving artist kind.  I gained this skill when I worked for painting franchise company after university.  That summer I oversaw about 30 college-aged employees, who like me, were working hard to make it through school.  Unfortunately we happened to be working for the worst franchise owner in the history of the company.  He was dishonest, bounced checks, unreliable and aloof.  In fact he was so bad that he fled the state to avoid prosecution, and I was left cleaning up his mess.  Obviously it was no fun doing this, but this experience and the long hours I spent fixing problems helped jumpstart my business career and taught me some wonderful lessons on leadership and the power of honesty.  His shortcomings helped me see where the challenges and weaknesses were in the business, which I was able to supplement later when I started my own franchise.

Which brings me to my final point: although most of us have worked with bad leaders, few of us really have worked for the best.  By it’s definition ‘the best’ is rare.  Most of us are and work with average leaders who are all on their journey of improvement.  I’ve been lucky to work with some pretty good leaders who have taught me a lot, but there really is nothing like seeing the world crash down in front of you and knowing that you have to pick up the pieces.

So what have you experienced, is it better to learn from the best or worst?

Author: Andy Aldrich

Andy is a founder of Learn[ed]Leadership as well as a school administrator at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. In addition to pontificating on ideas in education, Andy stays busy chasing after his daughter and impressing his wife with his big muscles.

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